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I am deeply grateful for the privilege of serving as Interim Minister with Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists for the two-year period beginning in August 2015. I represent a cadre of two dozen Accredited Interim Ministers within the UUA who currently serve UU congregations-in-transition in the US and Canada. A brief summary of my background; then a few FAQ’s (frequently-asked-questions) about the specialized work of transition ministry.
Over the past half-century I have enjoyed several distinct, fulfilling careers: Mathematics, geology, oceanography, government service, settled ministry, and transition ministry. With each new vocational venture I have incorporated the best wisdom, experiences, and resources from my past. Thus my journey has resembled a telescope rather than a ladder: With overlapping yet distinctive approaches to wisdom. My former careers in scientific research focused upon STT – “stuff-that’s true”. According to scientific methods, “the truth” must be testable — using empirical evidence, argument, and critical evaluation by peers. By contrast, ministry focuses upon STM – “stuff-that-matters”. To be sure, there is significant overlap between STT and STM – in a telescoping sense. Yet STM engages a wide range of human concerns, dilemmas, ambiguities, and paradoxes that may not be amenable to the same rules of evidence / testing / evaluation that are typical of scientific inquiry. Thus, there’s an important distinction between truth, and wisdom.
I am now beginning my 29th year of full-time ministry. I previously served fifteen years as settled minister at a UU church in Kansas. In 2002 I began the specialized work of transition ministry. WUU represents my ninth congregation-in-transition.
A few FAQ’s about the specialized work of Interim Ministry:
How is interim ministry different from called, or settled ministry?
Interim ministers (IM’s) are hired as consultants to the Board of Trustees, rather than being called by the congregation. Thus an IM’s tasks are primarily consultative. While we IM’s do engage in aspects of ministry which parallel the work of a settled minister, the IM is an invited guest, rather than a stakeholder in the system. For this reason IM’s avoid identifying with, or becoming partisan advocates for, any particular issue, strategy, or outcome.
Why is interim ministry important? Can’t we just find our next “real” minister?
For several decades, congregations of all denominations have learned that ministry-transition represents a window of opportunity for reflection, discernment and re-visioning. Thus emerged intentional interim ministry, with specialized training of IM’s who coach congregations through important self-reflection tasks. Whenever a church chooses to short-circuit this discernment process, the incoming settled minister will all-too-often become an un-intentional interim.
What are the congregation’s five focus points during interim ministry?
The Interim Ministry Network recommends five focus points for discernment by the congregation. In brief, these five are:
HERITAGE: Articulation and affirmation of a shared past, its ongoing meaning and the sense of purpose that it can provide.
MISSION: Who are we? Where are we going? Who and what are we called to be? How will we know that we have succeeded in that mission and vision?
CONNECTIONS: Being aware of the many and varied communities that the congregation and its member participate in, and by their active engagement, help shape.
LEADERSHIP: Reviewing the membership needs and its ways of organizing new and effective leadership.
FUTURE: Re-vision of the congregation’s historic purpose, reinterpreted and updated in light of current realities and circumstances
How does the interim minister work with a congregation in engaging these focus points?
In supporting the congregation’s work on the “focus points”, the IM serves as consultant; coach; observer; diagnostician; and cheerleader. The IM’s role centers on process: Fostering clear and timely communications; clarifying roles and responsibilities; identifying congregational norms (i.e., the “cultural DNA”); noting places of ambiguity, contradiction, or conflicting purpose; fostering the congregation’s self-understanding of its mission / vision; and promoting a healthy balancing. In brief, the process tasks of the Interim Minister are: Joining the system; Analyzing / interpreting; Connecting; Focusing; Clarifying Responsibility; Evaluating; and Exiting. The over-arching approach for the IM is: Observe; Describe; and Frame Questions that are clarifying, provocative, and open-ended, rather than to resolve perceived problems.
Why do you consider golf as a spiritual discipline?
Ever since my dad taught me to putt on sand greens in Texas, I’ve been hooked. Golf is a mind-game, far more than requiring physical prowess. It involves the Buddhists’ focus upon the present moment. My library includes two books by Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute: Golf in the Kingdom (1972) and The Kingdom of Shivas Irons (1997) which I commend; they enliven the links. I must confess, to golf purists, that I believe in forgiveness; thus I may occasionally play “winter rules” in other seasons.